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In 2001, I was a freshly-turned-twenty-one year old discharged from the hospital with a baby (my baby, I should add, in case you think I’m some kind of baby-stealer). Single-parenthood looming on the horizon, I’d moved back in with my parents, and now, having just expelled my firstborn from my uterus, I had no earthly idea what to do with him.
In a sense (despite all precipitating factors that, when lined up, make my life sound like a bad Country-Western song), it was fortunate. I hadn’t yet met The Internet, I had no mom-friends, and I only owned one book on child-rearing: Dr. Spock’s. I didn’t meet the Judgmental Parents Club until much later, and by that time, I knew enough to tune them out.
The first bit of advice I can give new parents is exactly what I took away from Dr. Spock: trust yourself. You know more than you think you do. I cannot imagine how hard it must be in the digital age; all of the information and judgement flying at you from all sides, but in the end, you need to trust that you know what’s best for your baby. Anyone who tells you that you’re doing it wrong can kiss off.
What took me nearly five years to learn is my second piece of advice for new parents, and it’s one that’s not often mentioned. Sure, you hear people say, “parenting is hard,” and other boring platitudes you can crochet on a pillow, but that’s not the whole picture. Parenting IS hard, that’s a given, but there’s no law that mandates you must love every second of it. Don’t feel guilty if you don’t love every moment, age, or stage. Be wary of anyone who tells you stuff like, “enjoy it while it lasts, because it’s over too soon,” because that is a recipe for needless guilt.
I suffered terrible antepartum and postpartum depression with the pregnancies and births of my last two children. There were days I was so miserable that I could barely get my ass out of bed. Having antepartum depression wasn’t a sign that I was a bad mother or that I didn’t want my baby: it just meant that pregnancy made me feel like crap. Don’t beat yourself up if you’re not glowing while pregnant. The only time I had any sort of “glow” about me was after I’d vomited.
Make yourself aware of the signs of postpartum depression. The more you know and all that After School Special stuff. If you’re feeling low at any point, tell someone. Get help. Don’t be too proud to admit that you’re struggling.
Try to remember that you matter, too. It’s too easy to put the needs of everyone else before your own, especially when you have a new baby. Sometimes, yes, parenthood calls for this, but that doesn’t mean that you should neglect yourself. Eventually, that catches up to you. Not all of us have the luxury of having a live-in housekeeper, nanny or personal chef (I certainly don’t), but that doesn’t mean I don’t deserve a break to be myself now and again. You won’t win Mother (or Father) of the Year by neglecting yourself. I know. I’ve tried.
Celebrate the good times and the bad. Try to remember that the worst days always end. Relax. Tune out unnecessary noise. Don’t be afraid to admit you’re struggling and need help: no one can do it all.
And if all that fails, there’s always vodka. Or cheese fries. Or both.